View Full Version : Shelter building logistics and information

Da Vinci
06-14-2017, 00:11
Hello Everyone,
I'm working on a project that is designing a set of shelters along a 530 km hiking trail in Latvia. This is an Architecture competition with the winning designs being built. I was hoping to get some insight on shelter building to help inform my designs.
I thru-hiked in 2014 and am very familiar with the different designs of the AT shelters, but I suppose I didn't pay to much attention to things like foundation types or things that might specific to each type of terrain. Other questions would be, how do you typically get materials to the building site... are the precut or all cut on site, is there a typical rule of thumb when selecting the building location and orientation?
Any info is greatly appreciated!
~Da Vinci

06-14-2017, 01:13
Why not contact the folks at the AT Conservancy? They can give you the building info. As to location - mostly scenic ridges, close to water, etc. Now ask about conveniences for hikers: tables, seating for cooking meals, hooks for hanging backpacks & bags, comfortable space for sleeping, etc.

06-14-2017, 01:20
What kind of foundation depends on the location and what kind of access it has. Often it's just rocks which are at the site. One thing most of the AT has in abundance is big rocks. In some cases the foundation can be cinder blocks or concrete SONA tubes.

Material is rarely cut on site these days, although there are a few shelters of recent vintage made from logs cut on site in Maine.

Modern shelters are often prefabbed someplace, then taken apart. That way you know it all fits together and no extra material is brought to the site. How that material gets to the site can vary widely. Many shelter sites have "back door" access via a near-by 4WD or ATV trail. In some cases material can be brought in during the winter via snowmobile. For very hard to get to places, material will be flown in, but that is very expensive. In nearly all cases, material will have to be carried the last bit to the site. This could be up to a couple of miles.

As to where to put the shelter, that takes a professional to determine. Some shelters are located at or near a vista, but most try to be in a place protected from the prevailing weather. In the USA storms mostly come out of the west, so locating a shelter on the east side of the ridge will protect it from most storms. East facing shelters also get the morning sun. Other factors are you need a reasonably level area and a reasonably close water source. Overall difficulty of the terrain will determine how far apart the locations are. In some cases, it's just a matter of it being a really nice place to put a shelter.

Da Vinci
06-15-2017, 00:53
Fantastic! I'm really excited about this project and there are definitely some things I haven't thought about. Thank you for the detailed info!!

06-29-2017, 11:50
A significant consideration is waste management.

Before you click on the link below, bear in mind climate conditions and rules/"red tape" will be significantly different for you. Be especially careful of the concept of importing "red wiggler" worms. Besides the possibility of them escaping confinement and wreaking havoc on the landscape, there is a strong likelihood they won't survive your climatic conditions. Also, many new trails don't see much use initially: under-loading a waste management system can be nearly as much of a problem as over-loading it. If there is an outhouse near you that doesn't smell too bad, it is likely the best source of "starter" material for your privy.

Here is the A.T. Conservancy's manual on this topic: https://www.appalachiantrail.org/docs/trail-maintainers-corner/backcountry-sanitation-manual-2-0-august-2014.pdf?sfvrsn=6

06-29-2017, 12:34
That would be awesome if your designs for the Amber Rd Tr, part of the E 9, in Latvia were adopted for construction. That is a coastal trail though with my guess varying terrain along its length. It seems the desired shelters are more of a cabin like structure?

06-29-2017, 14:08
I find the standard trail maintaining club designs utilitarian, generally the ones that stand out are one offs. The Ed Garvey Shelter in Maryland is an example of well thought out but different design.

I do like the elevated PATC designs where the floor is up off the ground a couple of feet with an open space underneath. There is gravel or crushed stone pad underneath which limits vermin breeding/hiding spaces and a convenient place to stuff litter. I also think the sills and structure lasts much longer with good air flow. The down side is that they would be difficult to make wheelchair accessible (MATC now builds their outhouses with ramps even though many are only reached by normally inaccessible trails). The one down side up north is a high off the ground shelter is going to be colder than one close to the ground. IMHO its worthwhile compromise but hard core winter campers may disagree. The other PATC innovation is to build a separate cooking pavilion with a fire ring away from the main shelter. This keeps food scraps out of the shelter and reduces the chance of losing a shelter to stove flare ups.

The old TFC designs in the whites were different, most are gone or modified from the original design but I believe Imp, Gentian Carlo Col and Guyot remain while the new Kinsman Pond Shelter is a rebooted version. They were a compromise between a lean to and an enclosed shelter, I have heard it speculated that that design held up to heavy snow pack better than lean tos as the open front wall of a lean to had zero lateral bracing while the TFC design has significant lateral bracing. Of course sometimes innovative architectural features are a curse. MATC incorporated translucent panels in the roofs of their lean tos. They were great, unfortunately the material deteriorated quickly and inevitably leaked after a few years. The club has slowly been replacing these with solid panels. The Bryant Ridge Shelter off the Blue Ridge Parkway in VA is an architectural gem, it had lot of different details that integrated well. Unfortunately it was designed to some forest service spec which required it to be made with natural materials including a wood shake roof. A waterproof membrane under the shakes was not allowed. It was a large two level shelter which should have had lots of capacity but due to roof leaks it meant a wet night to most occupants if it rained. We ran into a trail maintainer a day or so later and that shelter came up, he was involved with the construction and the locals wanted underlayment but the FS would not allow it. They were going to wait a few years and let the FS forget about it and then strip the roof and do it right, looking at recent images I see a asphalt shingle roof so I guess they got away with it.

BTW, MATC at one point had a book available on their shelter design and construction . Every so often a bot will put up a listing on Ebay for an old copy in the $2,000 range. I expect there are other copies at a far more reasonable price if you look around, like here https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=22135310151&cm_sp=plp-_-9780917953477-_-used. The bots are active on amazon https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Log-Lean-Construction/dp/0917953479

Tennessee Viking
06-29-2017, 14:42
Contact the ATC. They have a published guide to shelter/trail maintenance.

A number of the shelters along the AT were either constructed or designed by the USFS. Or refurbished existing structures. Others were designed and constructed by outside firms for the ATC/local clubs. Not sure who designed/constructed the huts/cabins. But now most are designed for minimal impact and bending to the area or minimal supply carry-in.

Materials are usually a multi-stage group carry-in.

Most are 3-4 wall lean-to or straight style with raised or bunk platforms. Some stick built. Some cinder blocks. Each shelter are almost built differently depending on time period, budget, location, traffic, weather, and terrain. Other trails have shelter designs have more basic design than the AT. 4 screen wall open floor cabins, A-frame roofs, and others just a basic lean-to roof.

You can find references to the AT Shelters here https://tnlandforms.us/at/index.php

06-29-2017, 17:52
Here's what DaVinci(like the user name) is competing.

06-29-2017, 17:53